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Quickies: When Sally Met Sally

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When Sally Met Sally by Emma Taylor


F
inally, a lesbian movie with the Hollywood touch! I tried, I really did, to like Go Fish, but god, did that movie suck. Kissing Jessica Stein is an honest to goodness romantic comedy, and I like it like that. Okay, so it’s not exactly about lesbians — more like, two cute straight girls kissing — but it tries really hard to be about lesbians, and it’s pretty endearing in the process.

The gist of it is this: Jessica (played by Jennifer Westfeldt, who is also a co-writer and looks like the love child of Helen and Phoebe from “Friends”) is a single, lovelorn, hapless, judgmental, picky, neurotic, Jewish copy editor in her late twenties in NYC. Or maybe
she’s just single. When a Rilke quote in a personal ad catches her eye before she realizes it’s in the “women seeking women” section, she decides on a whim to answer anyway. And that’s how she meets Helen (Heather Juergensen, the other co-writer — the two developed the screenplay from their 1996 off-off-Broadway play “Lipschtick”), who’s just as cute and
single but not nearly as neurotic, picky or judgmental, thanks to a lot of yoga and casual sex. What Jessica doesn’t know is that Helen is straight, too — she’s experimenting with lesbianism because she forgot to in college.

The chemistry between them is immediate, though never clearly defined: it’s part romantic, part lusty, part junior high-BFF, part conspiratorial and part tender. It’s ultimately what makes this movie so appealing: the reminder that chemistry is a slippery thing, and the line that divides how we feel about our friends and how we feel about our lovers is not always as
clear as we imagine.

Kissing Jessica is least interesting when it gets earnest and tries to make a lesbian point — like when Jessica and Helen encourage two frat boys in a bar to describe just what it is that’s so hot about two women together (though admittedly, it’s one of the sexier scenes, as Helen does to Jessica under the table exactly what Frat Boy A is describing). Or when Jessica agonizes over how much to tell her family or her co-workers. That stuff’s better off on the Lifetime Network or in lesbian film festivals. (And the first “point” is a little off when this movie is, at moments, quite literally what said frat boys imagine lesbianism to be: hot girly girls trading lipstick tips, swapping clothes, and giggling
in bed together after dark.)

On one of their early dates, Jessica pulls out a lesbian sex pamphlet and explains to Helen, “I didn’t know lesbians accessorized.” She’s talking about a strap-on — she wants to know how it works and which one of them gets to wear it. Helen reassures her that they don’t need to accessorize: They can just make out just like straight people, minus one “thing.” It’s an apt description of the film: The accessories are all of the decorative kind, and the romance is of the regular Hollywood kind (occasional lapses into cheese included) — except there’s no penis. No doubt Serious Lesbian Film Critics will find the film superficial and slick — but maybe some of them will be tickled by the fact that Kissing Jessica might well do for the sapphic persuasion what Ghost did for pottery classes.

(Kissing Jessica Stein is directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld)